THE Potato Lesotho Association (PLA) has welcomed the government’s move to temporarily ban potato imports to preserve the market for local farmers.
The Agriculture, Food Security and Marketing ministry recently announced the temporary ban of the importation of all types of potatoes due to high production by local farmers this year.
This is not the first time for the ministry to temporarily restrict fresh produce imports. In 2021, the ministry temporarily banned the importation of tomatoes to allow local farmers to sell off their high yields.
Lekhooe Makhate, the director of marketing in the Agriculture ministry, this week directed all district agricultural officers to restrict the importation of potatoes until local farmers have finished selling their produce.
“It is recommended that all table potatoes be purchased from local producers until the supply is exhausted,” Mr Makhate’s memo reads.
In a separate interview, Mr Makhate told the Lesotho Times that local farmers were expecting to produce 300 tonnes of potatoes this year. He however could not immediately say how much local farmers usually produce in other years.
While the local produce will not last long, it was necessary to ensure that local producers have a market to sell their produce, he said.
“Information from potato farmers’ associations shows that this year’s harvest will be about 300 tonnes. This translates to 30 000 bags at 10 kilogrammes per pocket.”
Mr Makhate urged producers and buyers around Maseru to visit the Maluti Fresh Market Produce while those in the northern parts of the country can visit the Tsikoane market.
Following this announcement, the PLA has welcomed the move saying it would protect the budding local potato production.
On his part, PLA spokesperson, Mahasela Nkoka welcomed the ban.
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“The ban will have a major contribution as imports are killing our local production. Local farmers are unable to sell their produce in a market awash with the imports.
“Our major challenge as potato producers has always been market access and we often compete with imports that include inferior low-grade products.
“So, the ban on imports will definitely play a big role in protecting the local production and will ensure that producers are able to sell their products.”
The good quality of Lesotho’s potatoes is attributed to the country’s high altitude and cool climate.
“We produce high grade potatoes in Lesotho ranging from grade 1 up to grade 10, while most of the informal market imports are of an inferior grade from grade 12 and worse,” Mr Nkoka said.
‘Maletsie Moshoeshoe, the branch manager at Pick n Pay Pioneer Mall, said they were always happy to support local producers.
However, she said local producers were unreliable as they sometimes delivered late.
“At Pick n Pay Lesotho we have a policy of supporting local fresh produce farmers and we have been getting some of our supplies from them since 2009 when we first opened.
“However, local producers can be unreliable and unprofessional in terms of delivery. We also need the produce to be washed but most local producers are unable to meet this requirement.”
Moshoeshoe therefore, encouraged farmers to invest in potato washing machinery to increase the market appeal of their products.
She also encouraged the government to engage all relevant stakeholders before imposing importation restrictions for proper logistical arrangements.